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Noah Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Noah (2014) movie poster Noah

Theatrical Release: March 28, 2014 / Running Time: 138 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Darren Aronofsky / Writers: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel

Cast: Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Ray Winstone (Tubal-cain), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah), Emma Watson (Ila), Logan Lerman (Ham), Douglas Booth (Shem), Nick Nolte (voice of Samyaza), Mark Margolis (voice of Magog), Kevin Durand (Rameel), Leo McHugh Carroll (Japheth), Marton Csokas (Lamech), Finn Wittrock (Young Tubal-cain), Madison Davenport (Na'el), Gavin Casalegno (Young Shem), Nolan Gross (Young Ham), Skylar Burke (Young Ila), Dakota Goyo (Young Noah), Frank Langella (voice of Og)

Buy Noah from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack DVD Instant Video

Back in the 1950s, Biblical epics were a marquee attraction in film. Movies like The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and The Robe were among the best-attended releases of their years and of the entire decade.
Times have changed, though, and today it feels like a big gamble to spend over $100 million filming a story out of the Old Testament instead of something like superheroes or computer animation. Paramount Pictures took that gamble on Noah, a film more than ten years in the making that cost considerably more than any other Bible adaptation to date.

Noah is directed and co-written by Darren Aronofsky, who is one of the more respected filmmakers working today but hardly Cecil B. DeMille. Aronofsky has never made anything remotely like this big budget, effects-heavy tentpole. He made the leap to low 8-figure filmmaking on Black Swan, the acclaimed ballet drama that won Natalie Portman an Oscar and vied for Best Picture and Best Director as well. Prior to that 2010 hit, Aronofsky made movies for as little as $60,000 (his profitable 1998 debut Pi) and only once as high as $35 million (the 2006 PG-13 sci-fi film The Fountain, which bombed). Noah had the director again aiming for mainstream audiences, including families and religious moviegoers who would probably be shocked and outraged by his previous output, such as Requiem for a Dream.

Noah (Russell Crowe) prepares for a big storm in "Noah."

An animated prologue establishes Noah (Russell Crowe) as descending from Seth, the lesser-known sibling of Cain and Abel. This, we're told, is the only good bloodline out there, as those descended from Abel-slayer Cain, though successful at industry, are a wicked lot. Noah is a virtuous patriarch, devoted to his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and his two, later three sons. After seeing a vision of a great and deadly deluge, Noah leads his family on a long trek to the home of his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Noah believes that men are about to be punished for what they've done to this world and that it is up to him to take action.

You're likely familiar with the story of Noah's Ark, but that Old Testament tale is often told to children and in mere minutes. This film runs well over two hours and you can bet that it doesn't stick to the Book of Genesis. For instance, Noah has to ask for the support and assistance of "The Watchers", fallen angels made of rock who have the screen presence of ancient, organic Transformers. The animals that line up two by two to preserve their species are a relatively small part of this film. They're sedated not long after making their grand entrance.

Noah stretches to create conflict and to reach a runtime that can be considered epic. There's a big unnecessary battle before the Ark's departure pitting Noah's small family, which has grown to include a barren young woman (Harry Potter's Emma Watson), against Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a king descended from Cain. Tubal-cain even sneaks aboard the Ark, extinguishes a few species for food and plots his move against Noah, playing upon the emotional wounds of Noah's middle son (Logan Lerman), whose potential mate met her end in a stampede in front of him and an unconcerned Noah. Subplots like these pad the story, which explains why the rain doesn't even begin until more than an hour in. The most time is spent on a rapidly-growing miracle baby who Noah vows to kill in order to wipe out the human race.

Kind of a big deal, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) is surprised to encounter someone who doesn't know who he is. Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) loves berries.

Such a big, bold project so uncharacteristic of its maker seemed destined to be either outstanding or terrible, with many anticipating the latter.
The truth is Noah ends up somewhere in the vast space between those extremes. It has some good moments, but also a number of puzzling and questionable ones.

It absolutely does not pander to churchgoers or the religious. You can't even classify the film as demonstrating Judeo-Christian values. You cannot lump this film in with this year's faith-friendly sleepers; Noah feels closer to Gladiator and 2012 than Heaven Is for Real and God's Not Dead. There's no proselytism to the film's depiction of Noah's relationship with the Creator. The Creation story is woven throughout the film, but it seems to define Noah and his conflicted sense of duty more than the world or us.

In other words, Noah makes a bigger impact technically than spiritually. The film boasts impressive visuals, opting for real locations (in Iceland, mostly) when it can, but still having to resort to CGI extensively (like the wild animals). It makes use of striking, choppy time-lapse footage to demonstrate the splendor of our world that will be demolished by the great flood but salvaged by the efforts of Noah.

As in its quality, Noah fell into a middle ground in terms of box office performance, eschewing easy classification as an all-out flop or redemptive blockbuster. The film's domestic haul of $101.2 M disappointed when compared to its $125 M production budget (and, for that matter, to the $107 M earned by Aronofsky's surprisingly potent Black Swan), but foreign territories (where it was converted to 3D) contributed $258 M to the bottom line for a respectable worldwide gross of $359 M. Paramount releases few movies these days, most of them expensive and conducive to franchises. Noah has a ways to go until it's generating profit, but it's not the financial disaster many foresaw and some would have liked to see given the movie's loose and nonreligious take on one of the best-known stories from such an old, sacred text.

Noah hits DVD and Blu-ray combo pack on Tuesday. We cover the latter here. As with theatrical release, no 3D version is available in North America.

Noah: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 7.1 DTS HD-MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, DVS)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, French, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; BD-only: English SDH
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

I've already detailed Noah's visual impact. So while not surprising it is no mere trivial detail that the film looks its very best in Paramount's stellar Blu-ray transfer. The 1.85:1 presentation, unusually narrow for a big budget film in 2014, offer vibrant colors, a pristine element, and all the sharpness and detail it should. The video stays great even during the busiest of shots, those in which hordes of animals approach Noah's ark.

Equally satisfying is the BD's default 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. If the film had opened on Christmas instead of shortly before Easter, there's a good chance we'd be talking about its chances in the Oscars' technical categories. While those are probably minimal as is, that doesn't change the fact that it provides crisp and purposeful sound design, utilizing all the channels to immerse you in atmosphere.

This overhead shot illustrates the vast scope of the Ark set built in Iceland. Director Darren Aronofsky and his seventh grade English teacher reveal the length of his fascination with Noah.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On Blu-ray, Noah is joined by three HD featurettes that run an hour with the "Play All" option.

"Iceland: Extreme Beauty" (20:40) obviously celebrates the northern country in which much of the film was shot,
with a lot of fly-on-set footage of the exotic weather conditions and some remarks from director Darren Aronofsky and other crew members.

"The Ark Exterior: A Battle for 300 Cubits" (19:48) follows the production to Oyster Bay, New York, where full-scale parts of the ark were constructed and the production shot calm nights for stormy days. Most interesting is Aronofsky and his 7th grade teacher recalling his poem about Noah winning a UN peace contest.

Russell Crowe and Ray Winstone lighten the mood of their climactic fight scene with comedy. CG doves fly by on the Noah DVD main menu conspicuously lacking a bonus features section.

Finally, "The Ark Interior: Animals Two by Two" (19:55) looks at the final stage -- filming inside the massive wooden structure -- and the challenges it posed in addition to gathering some thoughts on how and why Noah's story still resonates. (Despite the subtitle, there's not a word on the creation of the film's digital animals.)

The same DVD sold on its own, the combo pack's secondary disc doesn't include any bonus features.
Paramount has all but done away with extras on new films' DVD, which seems like a stupid way to address the steeply declining physical media sales numbers.

While the Blu-ray didn't stream any trailers as Paramount BDs usually do, the DVD opens with previews of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and Hercules. The menu's Previews listing prefaces them with a Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit trailer.

The main menus play scored clips amidst wood. The Blu-ray lets you set many bookmarks, but doesn't let you resume in any easy way.

The lone insert within the slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase supplies your code and directions for redeeming the Digital HD copy included with your purchase either via iTunes or UltraViolet. Paramount could have gotten much more creative with the packaging; they sent my review copy in an actual wooden box!

Noah (Russell Crowe) treats his family (Logan Lerman, Jennifer Connelly) to the Hangover II Galifianakis look: shaved head and full beard.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Noah won't fully satisfy those excited by the prospect of a big, lavish retelling of the Old Testament story. This epic Darren Aronofsky drama asks to be judged on its own terms, but doesn't fully work that way either, some good, powerful moments coming amidst random head-scratchers involving battles and stowaways. It's ambitious and bold enough to be surprised that the results are simply mediocre and not much better or worse.

Paramount's Blu-ray offers some of the best picture and sound quality you'll encounter this year plus a fine hour of featurettes. The movie-only DVD can't claim any of that, so those enjoying the film enough to own it should probably opt for this combo pack.

Buy Noah from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Darren Aronofsky: Black Swan | Russell Crowe: Winter's Tale Man of Steel The Insider Body of Lies
Jennifer Connelly: The Rocketeer He's Just Not That Into You Stuck in Love Labyrinth
Anthony Hopkins: Thor Thor: The Dark World Amistad The Rite Nixon You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Emma Watson: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 This Is the End | Logan Lerman: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Ray Winstone: Beowulf The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
The Ten Commandments Samson and Delilah The Miracle Maker
The Last Temptation of Christ The Last Flight of Noah's Ark Evan Almighty Take Shelter
New: Heaven Is for Real Transcendence 300: Rise of an Empire Lullaby Blue Ruin

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Reviewed July 25, 2014.



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